Transforming the World Series (8) The atonement and world transformation

This is a re-post from a series that I’ve kindly been asked to contribute over at Jesus Creed

The next chapter of Transforming the World?: the Gospel and Social Responsibility (edited by Dewi Hughes and Jamie Grant) is by Anna Robbins, ‘Public Execution: the atonement and world transformation’

Anna Robbins is senior lecturer in Theology and Contemporary Culture in London School of Theology (my alma mater).

There are lots of ideas in this chapter. And I like how she roots the call to justice in God’s character. But we’ll come back to that at the end of this post.

She begins by welcoming a growing concern among many evangelicals for social and political activism but adds a cautioning historical note – when ethics drive the gospel, rather than the other way around, over time there became little lasting theological motivation to be socially involved.

So this chapter attempts to lay out a theology of social action. And Robbins makes the case that any evangelical Christian social ethic needs to be shaped by the cross:

“If social ethics are neglected in our churches, it is perhaps because we have a misshapen understanding of the cross. If our social ethics take the place in our faith that the cross alone should hold, then again, perhaps we have lost a grasp of the centrality of the cross to our faith, and failed to understand the transformative implications it has for the whole of life.”

And so this chapter is an exploration of the implications of the atonement for social ethics.

I’ll have to summarise hard here and would recommend you read the whole thing for yourself.

To begin she asks not so much what the atonement means ‘for us’, but what does the cross mean ‘for God?’

To answer this she explores the atonement through the lens of reconciliation and God’s satisfaction. God’s holiness is satisfied at the cross through a judgement on evil and sin. They are put to death (Rom. 6:23). Reconciliation is made possible through God’s grace in the perfect one, Jesus Christ, offered in our place (2 Cor 5:21). Now reconciled, we are deemed righteous before God. And we are called to “live out our righteous status before God, in our context, in our world, we become agents of transforming justice, seeking right relation between ourselves and others and God.” This is the basis for a biblical social ethic.

Robbins draws out some implications for social action from this theology of the cross – and I’ll use her comments as a basis for some discussion questions.

God’s satisfaction in a consumer culture: to be reconciled to a God who is satisfied is to be a people who are satisfied.  What implications follow for those living in a culture of manufactured discontent?

Gratitude: how does a response of thankfulness for the cross motivate a Christian social ethic?

Humility and justice: If the cross is God doing what humans could not do (satisfy his perfect justice) what implications does this have for the place of humility in Christian social and political involvement?

“We must make judgements as we strive for justice, but we overcome those judgements with the furious love of Christ. Love is what God’s justice looks like.” (216)

Holistic holiness: If the cross is a cosmic work of reconciliation, what are the implications for understanding Christian social responsibility as being bigger than only personal ethics to including social and political involvement?

If offences such as abortion, sexual immorality and blasphemy outrage us, so should the AIDS epidemic , environmental degradation and crippling poverty not only  break our hearts but challenge us to work against them in the name of God’s holiness. (217)

And if the cross and resurrection leads to regeneration and new creation, where God’s people are empowered by the Spirit, given the victory in Christ (Christus Victor), set free from the power of sin and Satan (ransom), there is now “the possibility that at least some of God’s expectations actually might be met through our efforts” as Christ’s new covenant community is empowered for and called now to do good works and seek justice for those who can’t seek it for themselves.

In other words, the church is called to participate in God’s mission of world transformation which ‘reflects the work and heart of God’.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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